By Colby Itkowitz of the Morning Call
As U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent toured the infamous Guantanamo Bay detention camp on Friday he saw, in person, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
While the Lehigh Valley Republican wouldn't divulge how close he got to Mohammed, or whether he had direct contact with him, Dent said the mere sight of the man allegedly responsible for thousands of American deaths only solidified his resolve to keep the prison open.
''You see him and you realize he's an absolute monster of a man who is driven by his hatred and is completely unrepentant,'' Dent said in a phone interview Saturday morning. ''You see him and recognize him for what he is: a cold-blooded killer with warped ideology.''
Dent spent a full day Friday observing the Guantanamo Bay facilities and its prisoners on a bipartisan visit with fellow lawmakers from the House of Representative's Homeland Security Committee. It's a trip that Dent has been asking to take ever since President Barack Obama first announced on the second day of his presidency his intention to shutter the prison and release or transfer the detainees held there.
All along Dent has fought back against critics who charge the U.S. government with using torture to interrogate the prisoners.
Of the 198 detainees imprisoned there, many who are deemed compliant have access to television, DVDs, books, newspapers and magazines. They play video games, including the Nintendo game system Wii, and take art classes. They have access to recreational games up to 20 hours a day; most choose to play soccer, Dent said. The majority of the injuries at the camp, Dent was told, are sports-related.
''The long and short of it is that it's a professionally run prison and the treatment is very humane,'' Dent said.
All around the camp is evidence that the prisoners are anti-Western, he said. On a foosball table, all the faces of the men are scratched off. The inmates throw human feces at the guards, which the guards told Dent they jokingly refer to as ''feces cocktails.''
''They are al-Qaeda and they behave like al-Qaeda,'' Dent said.
Most detainees haven't been tried in court but are suspected of terrorist activity.
The question of what to do with the detainees, some of whom Obama wants to move to an Illinois prison, became more muddled after reports that Yemeni prisoners released in 2007 may have helped plan the attempted Christmas airline bombing over Detroit. Obama said he would suspend the transfer of prisoners to Yemen, but still intended to close the Cuba-based prison.
''We will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al-Qaeda,' Obama said last week.
Critics of the detention camp say rumors of torture and human rights violations mar the United States' reputation abroad and fuel hatred of Americans.
But Dent argued it's the American way of life that incites al-Qaeda.
''The bottom line is that if we moved the facility would al-Qaeda stop trying to kill innocent Americans?'' he said. ''The answer is absolutely not.''
Copyright © 2010, The Morning Call